Suppliers and GPOs seem to have come down with a case of conference fatigue from attending a growing number of conferences and events. GPOs have decided that their own conference just isn't worth it from a sales perspective.
The Healthcare Supply Chain Association will no longer hold its annual expo, which has been held since the mid-90s. Instead, it is opting to develop a series of educational sessions for the 2017 Public Policy Conference and Business Exposition hosted by the Federation of American Hospitals, the lobbing group that represents for-profit health systems.
HSCA's website says the decision to eliminate the event was made after “a tremendous amount of feedback from our business partners.” HSCA will still host its National Pharmacy Forum, which the organization identified as imperative as pharmacy leaders weather a changing provider environment.
HSCA CEO Todd Ebert, a former GPO leader himself, said his organization's members realized that the conference, though educational, wasn't giving GPOs enough exposure to suppliers. Since the GPOs and vendors would both already be at the FAH meeting anyway, HSCA decided it would be better to build upon that meeting.
“(GPOs) liked our meeting, the content was very good, but there's lots of meetings out there, so we asked the question, 'Is there a better way for us to get in front of suppliers and other organizations?'” Ebert said. “Every supplier I talked to said this is great because it puts two very good meetings together. They're looking for synergy.”
I talked to two GPO officials who agreed that the conference had lost its momentum and was being replaced by meetings that provide more face time with vendors. Both seemed pleased that the conference is evolving.
I was in attendance at the most recent expo in Washington last October, and although it seemed like an intellectually stimulating event for GPOs, there didn't seem to be an abundance of major vendors there, even during the “reverse trade show” event where suppliers could visit GPOs.
It's possible that suppliers in fact didn't go to HSCA's supply-chain expos because of competing priorities. But it's also quite possible that they don't see the need to appease GPOs, and instead want to sell straight to providers.
Suppliers obviously don't want to pay administrative fees if they don't have to, so they're always interested in ways to sell directly to hospitals. Similarly, some hospitals have gone directly to drugmakers in an effort secure certain pharmaceuticals that are in shortage, even if that means paying more and skirting their GPO contract.
Although the organization went through a sudden leadership change last summer with the departure of longtime CEO Curtis Rooney and the immediate appointment of Ebert, no one I talked with was concerned about the stability of HSCA as an organization. Ebert assured me without hesitation that HSCA is in good financial health, in part because he's “pretty damn good at running a company.”
HSCA's change in strategy may just be a part of a constant game of cat and mouse, where the GPO chases the supplier wherever he can find it.